Optimize heifer performance with TMR management

Posted on December 2, 2011 in Dairy Performance
By Cody Yanzick Calf raisers invest a lot of time and energy into optimizing calf performance.  Good feed management with young heifers can help to keep that momentum going as calves get older.  Here are a few tips for introducing, feeding and monitoring heifer TMRs.

  • Choose the right size mixer. Most calf raisers mix small batches of heifer TMR.  Choose the right mixer size to match the small batches.  If the mixer is too big, it will be harder to get a good mix of the feed.
  • Choose the right type and style of mixer. Heifers should be introduced to dry hay from two to six months of age.  If you’re using a horizontal mixer, the hay needs to be preprocessed.  If you’re using a vertical mixer, it needs to be properly processed.  Optimal particle size increases as the heifer grows.  A particle size of a muzzle-width or less is a good rule of thumb.
  • Sequence feed ingredients according to the mixer manufacturer’s recommendations. This will help ensure adequate mixing of the concentrates, forages and other ingredients.
  • Feed young heifers a more concentrated TMR. In the first two to six months, I recommend a 50/50 concentrate/forage ratio or higher.  Depending on your forage quality, you may need only a limited amount of concentrate after six months of age.  Lower quality forages demand higher concentrate levels for adequate energy and protein intakes.
  • Transition animals to new TMRs. The number one mistake I see is starting heifers on a TMR too early or switching too rapidly.  Doing so results in poor calf health and performance.  The following are guidelines transition to a TMR:
    • Wait seven to 10 days after weaning to introduce TMR.
    • After 10 days, feed a transition diet that is half starter and half first-stage TMR.  Feed this for seven to 10 days before feeding the first scheduled grower TMR.
  • Continually monitor your equipment and protocols. Routinely check your scales for accuracy and check in with your feeding personnel to make sure they are following protocols.  The same rules of consistency for calves apply to growing heifers.
  • Regularly test the TMR for accuracy. On a quarterly basis, send samples of the TMR to the lab for accuracy analysis.  Take a sample at the beginning of feeding, in the middle and at the end.  This makes sure that the feed at the top of the mixer is consistent with the feed at the bottom.
  • Feed high quality and palatable forages to your young heifers. Feed once a day versus every couple of days to keep feed fresh and free of mold.  A common mistake is to give “junk feed” to young heifers.  However, it’s best to search for the lower cost ingredients and forages for older heifers.    Along the same lines, don’t feed milk cow refusals to young heifers.  You may feed a limited amount of good quality milk cow refusals to older heifers, but it depends on the health status of the herd.  Discuss this strategy with your feed consultant.
  • Monitor your cost versus heifer performance at various life stages. Good heifer management includes evaluating performance at various life stages.  Check heifers at weaning, pre-breeding and freshening to make sure you’re reaching the performance goals you’ve set for your farm.

This article originally appeared in the August 2011 edition of Starting Strong, the Vita Plus calf care e-newsletter.  Click here to learn more about Starting Strong. About the author: Cody Yanzick is a Vita Plus dairy specialist.  He grew up on a cattle ranch near Billings, Mont. and attended Montana State University in Bozeman to earn a bachelor’s degree in animal science and nutrition.  For more than 13 years, Yanzick has worked with progressive dairy producers in eastern Wisconsin, focusing on total dairy herd health, including calves and heifers.  In addition, Yanzick and his wife, Sherry, own and operate a special fed veal operation.  Yanzick has passed down his interest in science to his three daughters.  Melanie is in her fifth year of pharmacy school at Drake University, Alyssa will graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire this year and pursue a graduate degree in speech pathology, and Olivia is in her first year of college at UW-La Crosse with plans to major in clinical lab science or nursing.  Cody enjoys spending time with his family, riding ATVs, hunting and fly fishing.

Category: Calf and heifer nutrition
Dairy Performance
Feed quality and nutrition